Project Management Coaching – Why Every Project Manager Should Have a Coach!
By Susanne Madsen
I still remember the first time I was coached. I was on a 5-day leadership course which helped us assess, expand and refine the leadership styles we were each using. To support this process everyone was assigned a personal coach who would help us resolve any issues which were impeding on our abilities to lead effectively. The topic I chose for the coaching session was the extremely long hours I put in at work. At this point in my career I was running a large project in financial services. I felt that everything depended on me and that I personally had to oversee (meaning micromanage) every aspect of the project. Needless to say that I felt exhausted and that my approach wasn’t the most effective!
My first coaching session was nothing short of revolutionary! I still remember the AHA moment it created as I realized exactly how much power I had over the choices I make, how I handle situations, and over my own career! I felt enlightened and empowered as I set out to improve my management and leadership style and in turn increase my performance and well-being as a project manager.
There are many such stories which illustrate the power of coaching. Through only a few one-on-one coaching sessions you can gain clarity over a topic or an issue which you have been struggling with for months. It’s interesting how it works really. It’s as if someone is holding up a large mirror in front of you where all your habits, fears, excuses, ambitions and talents are being reflected back to you so that you see yourself – and your situation – in a much clearer light. It’s personal and professional development on steroids!
As project managers we often lack guidance in how to develop our leadership abilities and fast-track our careers.
As project managers we rarely work with other PMs who can give us instant feedback – and most of the training we receive is focused on hard skills and improving our knowledge. Gaining knowledge is good, but it won’t make us better leaders or excellent project managers. We need to work with someone who can pinpoint the exact changes we need to make at a personal level in order to excel and make rapid progress. Some are lucky to have that in their managers, but unfortunately not everyone has the fortune of working for a brilliant boss!
So how can you start to tap into the power of coaching and benefit from it?
- Work with a professional coach
Working with a professional coach will stretch and challenge you to think deeper and take action towards the things you desire. Your coach will help you address immediate concerns; for instance relating to missed deadlines, a disengaged team, unhappy stakeholders, or a feeling of overwhelm and lack of achievement. A coach will also help identify your medium to long term aspirations, put together a plan of action and assist you in moving closer to your goals. This could relate to becoming a better project manager and leader, getting a promotion, or finding more joy and satisfaction in your work. I once worked with a gentleman who got the largest pay rise of his career after I coached him. What an awesome result for both of us!
Find a mentor
A mentoring relationship can be a good alternative to a professional coach, especially if you are looking to gain specific skills or advance within a particular organization. You can approach a senior colleague within your firm or industry who you trust and admire. Choose someone who has made a few mistakes, so that you can learn from them. Before you start the mentoring relationship, think carefully about what you want to get out of it and prepare for each session. It’s important to recognize that your mentor’s time and resources are precious.
Adopt a coaching mindset
When you have a coaching mindset it means that you get in the habit of setting and achieving goals, and that you build up momentum on a daily basis. It means that you keep an open and inquisitive mind and that you are being proactive with regards to the things you want. This type of self-coaching is useful in combination with a good coaching or leadership book that can help guide you. Read as many inspirational books as you can, attend motivational talks and listen to uplifting podcasts. Find a friend to work with who can serve as an accountability buddy – someone who you trust and who would also like to adopt a can-do attitude and achieve the things they dream of.
Ask insightful questions
Asking quality questions, and taking the time to act upon the answers, can have a tremendous impact on your career. Set time aside on a regular basis to take a step back from it all. Go to a place you really enjoy, maybe a park or a café, and inquire about the following:
- Where do I see myself heading? What steps can I take to move in that direction?
What would make my job as a project manager more fulfilling? What can I do to influence this?
What keeps me awake at night? Which risks and issues could jeopardize the success of my project? What can I do about it?
How can I instantly start to add more value to the project and my client? If any roadblocks are in my way, what can I proactively do to remove them?
Who can I start to train and delegate to, so that I free up time to focus on the activities that really matter?
What can I do to improve my relationship with my key clients and stakeholders?
How can I better motivate and utilize the strengths of my team members?
Susanne Madsen is a project & program manager, mentor & coach, and author of The Project Management Coaching Workbook. She has over 15 years experience in managing and rolling out large change programs. You can read more from Susanne on her blog.